In general, the UFC has to fight for its place at the table among sports bettors’ appetites behind the NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA. Over recent years, the sport of MMA has found a way to join the ranks of NASCAR, PGA and NHL when the main event draws the biggest names.
Suffice to say, although UFC cards fail to generate massive betting handles for sportsbooks, this past weekend's fights in Jacksonville were front and center as the first major sporting event in the United States since the COVID-19 shutdown.
To the delight of sportsbooks around the country, bettors came out in full force and drove the handle to record MMA levels. Some major sportsbooks reported that it was the most-bet MMA event in the history of their offerings on the sport … before the main card even started.
The biggest loss of the night for sportsbooks came when Francis Ngannou, a -255 favorite, knocked-out Jairzinho Rozenstruik at the :20 second mark of the first round. Nearly 90-percent of wagers were tied to Ngannou. However, many bettors decided to parlay the heavyweight to the other big favorite, champion Tony Ferguson (-210) in the main event.
As handles begin to mount, so too do the potential liabilities for sportsbooks. UFC fans were treated to an absolute classic in the main event as the fight mirrored a Rocky movie with tremendous exchanges that saw both fighters refusing to flinch, let alone hit the mat. However, once again the oddsmakers came away victorious after the fight was rightfully stopped in the final round. Upsets are almost always good news for sportsbooks, so it’s no wonder that the bookmakers were smiling when Justin Gaethje, a +180 underdog, came through in the finale over Ferguson.
According to Nick Bogdanovich of William Hill, one bettor in Vegas placed a $105,000 wager on Ferguson at odds of -210 that would have seen a net return of $50,000. Our UFC/MMA Betting Expert Casey Olson was all over the upset in SI Gambling’s UFC 249 Predictions and Best Bets:
“Gaethje is arguably one of the sport’s most exciting fighters, and his resume backs it up all the way. I like Gaethje’s chances to land and land early. Give me the value at +160.”
The UFC put on quite a show on Saturday night when sports fans were begging for a live event of any kind. Looking for more live action? Bettors will not have to wait long as UFC Fight Night will take place once again at VyStar Arena this Wednesday and then again on Saturday night. Three fight cards in one week?! Let’s just say Dana White is quite happy seeing all the other major sports in the U.S. continuing to delay their returns. Bettors showing they are ready to return despite difficult economic times was a pleasant surprise for sportsbooks as well as the UFC, who is reaping the benefits of attracting new fans as the only live event on betting boards.